High Performance Project Processes

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Organization at the Leading Edge: Introducing Holacracy  By Brian J. Robertson

Dynamic Steering

There are three key rules for effective dynamic steering:

  1. The goal at any given moment is to find a workable decision, not the “best” decision – make small workable decisions rapidly, and let the best decision emerge over time.
  2. Any issue can be revisited at any time, as new information arises – steer continually, whenever needed.
  3. Delay decisions until the last responsible moment. Present tensions are all that matter – avoid acting on predictive tensions.

Critical to dynamic steering is the rule that any issue can be revisited at any time. Dynamic steering requires we make quick decisions based on the aim/purpose of the circle and the facts at hand, and knowing that we can revisit the issue later as new information arises helps us avoid getting bogged down by predictive fears or trying to figure everything out up front.

Integrative Decision-Making Process (short-format)

There are several facilitation formats available for integrative decision-making. Following is the “short-format” process, used when a circle member has both a tension to resolve and a specific proposal to offer as a starting point for integration:

Present Proposal: The proposer states the tension to be resolved and a possible proposal for addressing it. Clarifying questions are allowed solely for the purpose of understanding what is being proposed. Discussion and reactions are cut off immediately by the facilitator, especially reactions veiled in question format (e.g. “Don’t you think that would cause trouble?”).

Reaction Round: The facilitator asks each person in turn to provide a quick gut reaction to the proposal (e.g. “Sounds great”, “I’m really concerned about X”, etc.). Discussion or cross-talk of any sort is ruthlessly cut off by the facilitator – this is sacred space for each person to notice, share, and detach from their reactions, without needing to worry about the potential effect of sharing them.

Amend or Clarify: The proposer has a chance to clarify any aspects of the proposal they feel may need clarifying after listening to the reactions, or to amend the proposal in very minor ways based on the reactions (only trivial amendments should be attempted at this stage, even if there were clear shortcomings pointed out). Discussion is cut off by the facilitator.

Objection Round: The facilitator asks each person in turn if they see any objections to the proposal as stated. Objections are briefly stated without discussion or questions; the facilitator lists all objections on the board, and cuts off discussion of any kind at this stage. If the objection round completes with no objections surfaced, the decision is made and the process ends.

Integration: If objections surface, once the objection round completes the group enters open dialog to integrate the core truth in each into an amended proposal. As soon as an amended proposal surfaces which might work, the facilitator cuts off dialog, states the amended proposal, and goes back to an objection round.

From Accountabilities to Roles

An accountability is one specific activity that the organization is counting on. It typically begins with an “-ing” verb, such as “facilitating a daily meeting”, or “faxing documents upon request”, or “managing overall resource allocation for the company”. Whenever an accountability is defined, it is also immediately attached to a Role.

Roles in Holacracy hold multiple related accountabilities in a cohesive container. The list of explicit accountabilities is detailed and granular, so we avoid the “title trap” – thinking we’ve made expectations explicit just by creating a job title or a place in the management hierarchy.

The question of who you are accountable to just isn’t very useful – many people count on you! A much more useful question is “for what?” – what do they count on you for?  Any given role may have dozens of accountabilities, and any given individual may fill multiple roles.  Start simple and clarify accountabilities over time, as tensions actually arise from unclear implicit accountabilities or conflicts between roles; no sooner, no later.  Clearly differentiae individuals from the roles they fill to separate emotions about people from emotions about the Roles.

Integrating Autocracy

Despite its power, most decisions in actually are not made directly via the integrative decision-making process. Most of the decisions we face day-to-day are relatively simple and most effectively made by one person autocratically. The governance decision to give autocratic control over certain operational decisions is always done via integrative decision-making. That is, defining and assigning roles and accountabilities and the type of control that goes with them is done through integrative decision-making. In fact, by default any accountability assignment also grants autocratic control with regard to that specific issue, unless another accountability exists which limits this control, such as an accountability to integrate other perspectives before making a decision.

Individual Action

No matter how detailed and refined we’ve made our roles and accountabilities, there will be cases where actions are needed which are outside of our role definitions, and thus outside of our official authority. In fact, in the early days it is likely that most of what we do falls outside of defined accountabilities, since we let roles evolve over time instead of trying to guess at what they need to be predicatively.

Individual Action tells us to do exactly what we usually hope people do anyway: Consider the information available, use your best judgment from your highest self, and take whatever action you believe is best for the circle’s aims. And when that action falls outside or even against existing accountabilities, be prepared to go out of your way to “restore the balance” from any harm or injustice caused, via a restorative justice system rather than a punitive one. And finally, take the perceived need for such action to a governance meeting, so that the circle can learn from the case study by evolving roles and accountabilities to transcend the need for it next time – in this way, individual action drives organizational evolution.